by Shirley Lorraine
Theater is Live on Ojai Stage!
The silent stage drought is finally coming to an end. Ojai Art Center Theater opened Friday to an enthusiastic audience with Family Furniture, written by A.R. Gurney. Gurney is perhaps best known for his Pulitzer prize-winning play Love Letters and his hit scipt Sylvia.
Set in the 1950’s, Family Furniture is an exploration into the coping and evolving skills of a family summering on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie as they navigate the slippery path that is maturation, growth and acceptance as a unit. The central theme is value of renewal rather than replacement. The play is performed with no intermission.
The “children”, Nick (Benjamin Wilson) and Peggy (Kisea Katikka) are moving into adulthood with its attendant complications of infatuation, a need for exploration and a desire for autonomy and clarity. At the same time, Mother, Claire (Ashley Osler), is coping with some emotional mid-life challenges of her own. Father, Russell (Buddy Wilds) does his best to keep the family on an even keel throughout, while he goes about his own style of maintaining equilibrium for himself and for his family. Nick’s girlfriend Betsy (Amber Shea Hodge) provides a measure of perspective from another viewpoint.
The play is well crafted. Each character has an opportunity to delve into their needs and depths of emotion. Each grapple with some potentially life-changing issues and as a family they ultimately discover what is truly important and how to best cope until the next thing comes up. Seasoned director Tom Eubanks chose this work well as his final directorial project before he retires out of the area. He will be missed.
All the actors portray their roles with clarity and confidence although at times vocal volumes dropped and were a challenge to hear. Opening night provided numerous opportunities for the actors to learn to take a breath so lines would not be drowned out by audience laughter. There are myriad patches of familiar situational humor that deserve to be heard. This production is not amplified so the actors must remember to project even in more intimate moments.
The setting is minimal, having the actors move the few basic pieces of furniture about to indicate scenery changes. Costuming is simple and effective, giving just enough flavor of the era to augment the story. The many references to happenings of the time transported the audience but the story could easily have been played to any era. The situations are familiar to all age levels.
Clearly, audience members were excited to be attending live theater again and the actors and crew were thrilled to be doing what they do best. Masks are optional. It’s been a long haul.
Summer curtain time is 7:30 on Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. For reservations, call (805) 640-8797 or go to OjaiACT.org to secure your seat. General admission tickets are $20, Art Center members and seniors $18 and just $10 for under 25.